The Catholic Press Awards is the acknowledgment of the outstanding work of its Publisher and Communication members as they strive to further the mission of the Church. On a daily basis they inform, inspire and educate readers keeping them connected to their faith, and telling the story of the Church. It is those contributions that are recognized through these awards.

DeSales Media took home 68 awards from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada on July 2, recognizing the work of DeSales Service and DeSales News’s  The Tablet and Nuestra Voz, the newspapers of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

DeSales Media awards included a sweep for Best Web and Print Package. Be The Solution Campaign took the top spot, followed by Red Ribbon Campaign second, and KindGen third. DeSales also took home second place for categories Best Social Media Campaign, Best Annual Report, and Best Ad Copywriting.

The Tablet earned second place for Best Weekly Diocesan Newspaper (the St. Louis Review took the top spot), first place for Best Layout of Article or Column, first place for Best Editorial on a Local Issue, first place for Best Writing on a National or International Event, and first place for Best Investigative News Writing.

Nuestra Voz, the diocese’s monthly Spanish-language newspaper, awards include first place for Best Coverage of Pro-Life Issues, first place for Best Local Newswriting, first place for Best Regular Column for Religious Life, first place for Best Regular Column for Family Life, and second place for Best Cover.

See the full list of Catholic Press Award recipients here.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK — The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences SF/Northern CA Chapter has recognized Sunday to Sunday, an online and cable TV program that uses cinematic storytelling to highlight the most gifted preachers in America, with a 2020 Emmy award for Outstanding Interview Program. Sunday to Sunday is a media partner with America Media (America Magazine) and DeSales Media Group in Brooklyn.

The Sunday to Sunday team, led by Roman Catholic priest, retired college professor, and television producer, Father Mike Russo, along with CutFocus director, Carlos Torres, were announced winners on June 6 for their production of the episode “Father Chris Walsh.” The episode explores the Philadelphia based priest’s work ministering to an African American congregation at Saint Raymond of Penafort, something Father Walsh recognizes is critical as cities grow in diversity. The award-winning episode will air on NET-TV at 5 PM on Saturday, July 4.

“Going back to the time of slavery, where Sunday was a day away from the experience of the oppression of slavery, they were often spending the day together, and their true identity was being lived out,” says Father Chris Walsh. “I think as we minister, not only to an increasingly non-white church but also a church that has very different experiences as far as socio-economics and political experiences, what the church has done when it’s been its best throughout history is to meet people where they are.”

Since founding this non-profit just three years ago, Sunday to Sunday has focused its efforts in applying contemporary cinematic production to highlight unique aspects of Catholic ministry, stimulate conversation and bring to light the word of God. Father Russo is a longtime television producer having begun his career at CBS News, beginning in 1969 as a production assistant for Walter Cronkite’s broadcast of the “Man on the Moon, the Epic Journey of Apollo 11.”

“We’re thrilled about this honor from the Academy,” says Father Mike Russo. “It’s truly a culmination of the hard work and support from many and a sign that our work is having an impact.”

Father Russo recognizes the impact storytelling can have on the Church, preaching, and evangelization. He is among the very few Roman Catholic priests to win an Emmy; and last year, the program garnered the Gabriel Award from the Catholic Press Association for the “Best TV Series & Storytelling.”

DeSales Media Group is the parent company of NET-TV, which is available in the New York City market on Spectrum, channel 97; Optimum, channel 30; and Fios by Verizon, channel 48. To learn more about Sunday to Sunday, visit: https://www.sundaytosunday.net/

Contacts

Mitchell Woodrow
Sunday to Sunday
mitchellmcclainwoodrow@gmail.com

Father Mike Russo
Sunday to Sunday
mrusso0494@yahoo.com

John Quaglione
DeSales Media Group
jquaglione@desalesmedia.org

“And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began speaking in different tongues. …Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we heard them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” (Acts 2:4,11)

As we launch our new website on this Monday after Pentecost, I’m reminded of the apostles who, filled with the Holy Spirit, were able to proclaim the Gospel to such a wide and diverse audience.  

Today we hope the universal languages of design and storytelling will help us reach across the digital continent to speak to people in every corner of our community and country so we can help them share the Good News.  

Our new website is the digital front door of our ministry, which uses media and technology to help our clients inspire Catholics to put their faith into action. Welcome. 

Like any company website, desalesmedia.org tells our story — what we do, who we are, who we work with. But we aim to do more with this new platform. Through the case studies in Our Work, you can see how we have solved communications challenges within the Diocese of Brooklyn and beyond. In the DeSales Media Blog, you can get to know us even better as we explore how we and other Catholic organizations combine ministry and mission to reach, engage, and lead the faithful.

We hope you will use the site to connect with us and share your challenges. We are anxious to work together for God’s kingdom on earth.

Currents News and Telly Award logos

Currents News, the nightly program that covers news from the Catholic perspective on NET-TV, won nine statues during the 41st Annual Telly Awards in recognition of its excellence in journalism and video production. (Scroll down to watch the winning reports.)

Currents News’ special projects unit took home both the Gold and Silver awards for two investigative stories, “Eyes on You” and the multi-part series “Human Trafficking Exposed.” Only the top 3% of all winners receive the Gold Award.

The Currents News digital unit won a Silver Telly Award for its provocative social media video titled “Disgusting and Disgraceful, or Just a Joke?” It looks into the business of portraying celebrities as saints on religious candles.

Plus, the news team has been recognized with a Bronze Telly Award for one of its on-location stories on the inferno that nearly destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The Judging Council awarded a Silver and two Bronze statues to the Currents News 30-minute nightly news program. Currents News also won a Silver People’s Choice statue by securing the popular vote.

“This is one of the hardest working news teams in the business, dedicated to producing high-quality and engaging news content for our audience,” said Vito Formica, Executive Director of News Content & Development for DeSales Media Group, the communications arm for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“It’s a blessing and honor to be recognized. The awards motivate us to not only continue our work but also to keep reaching for new levels of excellence in journalism.”

Happy Easter! He is risen!

Two months ago, I was interviewed here on the blog about the beginning of my journey so far in Exodus 90. We promised a follow-up post at the end of the program, and this time gave the proverbial microphone to my Exodus fraternity brother, Rafael PiRoman.

Rafael is a parishioner at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph and the host of MetroFocus on PBS. We talked to him on Day 74. With just 16 days to go, Rafael shared his experiences with us.

How did you hear about Exodus 90?

Rafael: I heard about Exodus 90 through interviews and articles online and through various outlets of the Catholic media. I was interested, but I didn’t know how I could get involved with it and who I could gather into a fraternity. In January, I heard Msgr. Harrington mention in a homily at the Co-Cathedral that he was starting a fraternity at the Co-Cathedral. I reached out to him and joined the fraternity. The challenge started that Monday! It was a quick turnaround.

What did you think was going to be the hardest thing to give up during Exodus 90?

Rafael: You’ve heard about the cold showers? (laughs) So that’s what I thought was going to be the hardest. I work in media, so I was going to have to make an exception for screens and communication for work, but it was easy to give up TV outside of that. But then everything changed for me on the 42nd day.

Part of Exodus 90 is rigorous exercise each day. On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, I went to the doctor, as I had the biggest muscle spasm of my life from exercising the day before. I had overdone it. The doctor prescribed pain medicine for me and also gave me steroids. The steroids affected my brain and my mood, and I had sort of a “dark night of the soul.”

Previously, up to the 42nd day, this whole process had been extreme consolation. I said to a priest that this experience of asceticism and dedication to prayer, particularly the 20 minutes of silent prayer, was opening up my eyes to the faith. I was beginning to understand the faith, understand who Jesus was for the first time.

I only returned to the faith about two or three years ago. Previously, a few times before, I’d wanted to get back to the faith, but it felt like nonsense, wishful thinking. When I heard believers talking about God, I felt like I was behind a glass wall and not in there with them.

But, throughout the first few days of Exodus 90, I truly felt God’s presence, that I was in God’s palm, that heaven is where we are, we just can’t see it. I became convinced that Jesus really is God—God became a human being, and continues to dwell among us.

After being prescribed the steroids, I felt mentally weak and experienced strange symptoms. I reached out to my “anchor” [DeSales Media CEO Bill Maier] in the Exodus 90 fraternity, and he not only was completely supportive, he understood and shared a similar experience.

With my anchor and the fraternity, I was able to get through this distressing physical and mental pain. I felt that God was sending me a message. Even though I had been undertaking ascetic practices, I hadn’t really been uncomfortable—I had been secure in my own ability. I felt, oh I’m good, I’ve got this. I thought I was giving up myself when I was not.

We can’t do asceticism without confronting discomfort and evil. I felt that this pain was actually a prodding from God to surrender myself more. God was sending me a message; when we give up our lives, that is serious business. We have to accept daily pain, chronic pain. But we can’t do it alone. We need to rely on others. Ultimately, we have to acknowledge—and this is the whole point of Exodus 90—that we cannot lead ourselves to freedom. We have to hope in Christ. Not ourselves.

How has your experience of the fraternity impacted your experience?

Rafael: If this series of mishaps hadn’t happened, I might have told you, “I’m prepared, I’m ready, I can do it. I can change my life around after the 90 days.” Now I know that I couldn’t do it without the fraternity. Every meeting we’ve had has always made this experience better for me.

It is Jesus who saves us, who leads us out of the dark wood, but he does that through the intervention of other human beings.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your experience of Exodus 90?

Rafael: I mean, talk about not being in control. I lived through a revolution in Cuba, through the 9/11 attacks, through the Vietnam War, but nothing compares to this—we truly are out of control.

This new virtual and digital society we’ve become has really exposed my tech ignorance. I’ve had to surrender myself in a new way by asking for help. I’ve been asking people in my company, younger coworkers or colleagues, to help me. I’ve found that people have been absolutely kind and generous and patient with me.
One of my coworkers told me: “Listen Rafael, in a time like this, we just have to be a little more patient and kind to each other.”

+++

Isn’t that the truth?

In my own experience, my favorite music never got any easier to be without, and the cold showers stayed jarring. But what was revealed to me over the three months was that so much of what I felt was an important part of my life, isn’t. That things we think we need, we don’t. And that becoming less attached to stuff like this is only the beginning of living a Christian life.

I am grateful to have had this experience, and I give glory to God for bringing me through it. The program focuses on turning us from selfish guys who are attached to our comforts into men for others. It is about treating Day 91 not as a finish line but as a new beginning. And I am invigorated to live for Christ.

He is risen indeed.

By Dave Plisky

What an unexpected Lent we have had. Going into Holy Week, we find ourselves wondering how we can give to others while sequestered in our homes.

It seems like everyone wants monetary donations. And while we’re doing our best to remember the Lord’s words that He will provide, many of us are operating on significantly reduced incomes.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
Matthew 6:25

Instead, let us pick ourselves up from the emotional rut of isolation and think about how we might serve those around us.

May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.
St. Teresa of Avila

1. First of all, Stay home. Stop the spread. Doing so keeps you from unknowingly contracting the virus from other sources, and from spreading it yourself. But what if you aren’t sick, or you plan to go out without coming into contact with anyone else? There is still a risk: people who contract COVID-19 typically don’t show symptoms for 3-14 days, and some never show symptoms at all.

2. Stop hoarding. It’s okay to have enough—and there are some things you’ll want to stock up on, such as disinfectant wipes. But don’t buy so much that others are deprived of groceries and other essential items. Some people are actually having a hard time finding toilet paper because of the hysteria.

3. Start praying. [Pray for the living and the dead.] Those affected by the virus need your prayers. Pray for the elderly, for the poor, for the uninsured, for those who have tested positive, for their families and loved ones. Pray for the medical workers on the front lines. Pray for priests celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass alone. Pray for those in isolation, for the homeless, for those with mental health challenges, for those stuck away from home, for families with young children at home, for those out of work, for those with other health conditions. Pray for the repose of the souls of the departed. Ask the Great Physician for healing. Appeal to the saints. Pray.

4. Donate health care supplies. [“Visit” the sick.”] Your local hospital or other health care facilities may be short on supplies that you have. Visiting is probably out of the question, so consider donating extra personal protective equipment that you may have bought in excess or simply have lying around. Your local shelter may be another service in need. Consider donating extra cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer if you have them.

5. Host healthcare workers. [Shelter the “homeless.”] If you have a home where you would feel comfortable offering a portion of it to those on the front lines, consider listing it on Airbnb. Those treating patients every day are overworked and often can’t commute home, either because there is no time, or they are volunteering from out of town. Airbnb has responded by making it free for them to find a place to stay.

6. Call your loved ones. [Comfort the afflicted.] Everyone is going through an unprecedented level of isolation and, often, anxiety and fear. Friends and family are no exception—and quite possibly the ones who count on you and need you the most in this time of crisis. Be there for them. Video chat is easier than ever before, and it can make someone’s day to hear your voice and see your face.

7. Reach out to an elderly person. [“Visit” the sick.] The elderly being cared for in a home are especially susceptible to coronavirus outbreaks, and as a result, loved ones are generally not able to visit. You are also likely to have people at your parish who are confined indoors by illness or disability. If you think it sounds overly romanticized to send snail mail, think again. Something is conveyed in a physical, hand-written letter that you don’t achieve in other forms of communication. Are you better on the phone? A kind voice can make a person’s day. Speak to your pastor about contact information for those unable to leave their homes, and check in on them.

8. Write to someone in prison. [“Visit” the imprisoned.] Those in prison are isolated from society. If we think quarantine is difficult, imagine years of this. There are ways to let the incarcerated know you are thinking of them, even from home. If you don’t know someone in prison, websites like WriteAPrisoner.com can put you in touch with inmates seeking correspondence. They even have a designation for those who are Catholic. Sister Helena Prejean has published tips on writing to the imprisoned here.

9. Be an example to others. [Instruct the ignorant.] As Christians, we are often not choosing between doing evil and doing good, but rather we are choosing between two goods. Unless you live alone, your family will see how you are choosing to spend your time in service of others. It is in these silent moments of charity that we are Christ’s best evangelizers. This virus might be XX times more contagious than the flu, but I believe virtue is contagious, too. Practice the gift of love and watch as others do more of the same.

If you do feel comfortable going outside, or if you’re stepping out anyway (of course taking the necessary precautions), your elderly neighbors may still need things picked up or dropped off for them, including essentials like groceries, medication, and laundry. Check in on your neighborhood and see how you can help. It doesn’t have to involve any contact.

Or, text your pastor and see if he needs help around the parish. With a reduced offertory, he may have been forced to cut some non-critical expenses. Maybe he’s got an outdoor maintenance project for you, such as mowing the lawn. He is probably overwhelmed. A helping hand will always be appreciated.

+++

We receive when we give. We love the Lord when we see Him in others and love them too. We love through charity—an outpouring of oneself. Be a person for others.

Watch Mass from home and continue to partake in spiritual communion. Even while physically away from one another and Christ Himself in the Eucharist, it is important that we offer up the sacrifice of the Mass to Him. Hopefully, your parish is streaming live Mass daily. If it is not, and you’re in the Diocese of Brooklyn, give us a call. We’re ready to help.

In these uncertain and strange times, many Catholics find themselves in particular need of pastoral guidance and care as many dioceses have canceled public Masses due to the spread of COVID-19. Regular prayer groups and routines have been disrupted, and our prayer life may be disrupted. One app that is uniquely equipped to meet this need is Hallow.

In 2018, five young Notre Dame alumni founded a startup to help young Catholics practice meditative prayer. In our overcrowded schedules and noisy, busy world, meditation apps—like Headspace, Calm, One Giant Mind—have proliferated. These meditation apps walk users through physical and mental exercises of relaxation. 

Hallow provides Christian meditation, which doesn’t just provide us with mental health, but with relationship, a way of carving out space in our day to spend with God. Time spent with God gives a peace that the world—or any meditation app—cannot give.

During this time of uncertainty, Hallow is offering their premium content for free for three months and piloting remote community connections, so that Catholics looking for consistency and community in their prayer lives can access their content.

I sat down with two members of the founding team—Bryan Enriquez, head of customer engagement, success, and community; and Alessandro DiSanto, head of growth, who also leads educational partnerships, and multi-channel marketing efforts.

****

De Sales: So tell us a bit about Hallow: who are you? And how have you grown?

Alessandro DiSanto: Hallow is a Catholic meditation app that helps users deepen their relationship with God through contemplative prayer; helping both those new to prayer and those with existing prayer routines discover new forms of prayers. Hallow tries to bring ancient—but sometimes forgotten— forms of contemplative prayers into our everyday lives. Hallow also seeks to reach out to others who may not have a natural connection with the Church or may have fallen away from practicing faith. Finally, Hallow reaches those who are looking for the peace and focus that they may have found in secular meditation apps and offers them a focus on spiritual growth.

hallow inspirational quote slide

Bryan Enriquez: “Hallow” means to sanctify or make holy. Hallow is seeking to make our time and our days holy. We’re not the institutional Church, but we are the Church, the Body of Christ. As laity, we asked, what role can we play? 

Sometimes Catholics think: “I’m not a priest, I can’t make that much of an impact. But you CAN make an impact. We’re all called to spread the word of Christ in many different forms. We can inspire other people. And that’s how Hallow aims to inspire the Body of Christ. 

Hallow was born out of a call. Each of us felt called to do this. We were each ordinary young professionals going about our lives, asking purpose-related questions. We did not know that contemplative prayer existed. But Hallow really was the fruit of a prayerful discernment: to quit our jobs and follow the call to start a contemplative prayer app.

DS: Who are the Hallow listeners? What is the growth you’ve done in the past year? 

AD: We’re about evenly split across three age ranges: 18-35; 35-55, and 55+. We have a strong group of Catholic listeners, but our top user is a non-Catholic, an Evangelical Protestant. Some of our top users are Presbyterians, Lutherans, even self-described agnostics. 

BE: Our users are an ecumenical, global group: we have users in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and over 50 other countries. Since we launched the app in December of 2018, Hallow has been downloaded over 150,000 times.

AD:  We’re the #1 Catholic app in the Apple App Store! 

DS: Studies show us that phones increase our distractibility and decrease our attention spans. How do you make Hallow something that enables relationships and not a distraction?

BE: We believe in meeting people where they are. The one place where people definitely are is on their phones. If Jesus had waited at the temple, he would have never found the fisherman.

We’ve designed the app intentionally to disappear. We want you to close your eyes and forget about the phone and just be present in prayer. To that end, we’ve designed the app so that there’s nothing visual. In meditations, we don’t include the words of Scripture, we don’t include scripts or text in any part of the app.

hallow inspirational quote slide

When you open Hallow, you just hit the play button and then can distance yourself from the phone. The physical device in front of you is not important, rather we put the focus on the interior truth that is opening up to you. Like when Elijah goes up to the mountain and hears God in the still, small breeze. In Christian meditation, we’re not just seeking silence, but the voice that speaks to us in the silence. It’s a two-way conversation. 

DS: What are your 2020 goals?

AD: We have a couple big goals for 2020. Content-wise, by the end of 2020, we hope to have the majority of content in Spanish to serve the bilingual Latinx community in the USA and beyond. We also plan to continue to build out our sleep-focused content, which allows users to wind down with night with God.

As for growth, we hope to develop our relationships with schools and parishes more. We’re developing programs to support Catholic school teachers in the classroom with Hallow App materials. Mental and spiritual health are two huge challenges for the younger generations and we want to support them in strengthening both. 

BE: We are growing our community services for Hallow. We’re offering our first Hallow Retreat this summer. We’re reaching out to Catholic apostolates to build our affiliates programs. The affiliates program offers special benefits to group members. Any organizations that might be interested, should contact us! We’re always looking to expand our community and support others. 

A key group of communities that we’re partnering with is parishes. We want to partner with parishes, support their work, and help them grow their faith community in their own way. We’ve created parish kits for parishes to market Hallow to parishes.

And we’re working on group content such as women’s and men’s groups, young adult prayer hours, and bible studies which can be done in person or over the phone. When conducting research, we found the two main barriers we found to faith leaders feeling confident leading a prayer group were: “I don’t have the time” and “I don’t have the words.” Leading groups in prayer can be challenging, and we’re offering the resources to others to lead them. They can be made available by emailing me directly: bryan@hallow.app

This includes our first session which is called the Saints Pack, which features nine sessions of content that each focus on the life of a different Saint and is modeled after our Saints challenge in the app. 

DS: What is Hallow Doing for Lent?

AD: This year we’re offering the Pray 40 Challenge – 40 individual sessions for every day of Lent. We’re not going to go through Lent alone, but as a community. During Lent, we’re committing, with the Church, to a daily prayer habit to help us not only grow closer with God, but to develop a healthy relationship with technology.

***

I asked some of Hallow’s staff to share their Lenten disciplines, and here’s what they had to say. 

hallow inspirational quote slide

Alessandro DiSanto 

“Taking only cold showers. Dying to myself a little bit every day helps keep me focused that we are not made to seek only comfort in this world.”

Bryan Enriquez

“In addition to giving up alcohol and taking lukewarm, quick showers, I’m committing to saying a quick prayer before I get to bed and right when I wake up, and devoting time twice a week to praying in a group outside of Mass.” 

Erich Kerekes

“I’m giving up meat entirely until Easter (This is a big thing for me, I grill out almost every night!) and committing to fasting on Fridays beyond just fasting from meat. I’m trying to not eat anything at all until dinner or around sunset. Additionally, I’m committing to at least 20 minutes of prayer every day, with a particular focus on listening to God and spending time in silence.” 

Alex Jones

“In addition to committing to daily mass, meditation, and holy hours, I’m fasting entirely on Wednesdays or Fridays, unless I share a meal with someone who’s experiencing homelessness or poverty.”

**** 

 A sample of a recent week of Hallow’s Lenten programming includes: Meditating on the works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, Mother Teresa’s spirituality, Stations of the Cross and meditations on caring for others or Works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries, praying with Mother Teresa and so much more! 

 You can easily share Hallow’s content with your community, parish, or faith group with the email template the Hallow team has created here.

To meet the needs of those self-quarantining and social distancing, Hallow has curated a “Stuck at Home” Praylist: the “Stuck at Home” praylist features prayers focused on trust, healing, and trusting in God’s will. You can foster your prayer life by praying with the Hallow Community on Facebook Live each day at 9p ET (and 11a ET on Sundays). 

Download the Hallow app to join the #Pray40 community and journey with others through this desert of uncertainty together. Despite these strange times, we at DeSales pray your Lent continues to be a holy journey through the desert with Jesus. And that Christ, the Great Physician, keeps you and yours in good health and happiness!

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is making headlines across the world, making waves in the global economy and disrupting social patterns across the world. As it begins its spread throughout the United States, our lives closer to home have been changing. Many US Catholics have been following the news of quarantines and lockdowns in China, Italy, and throughout Europe and the Middle East. Throughout the past weeks, we have extended our sympathy for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering across the world and we continue to pray in solidarity with them.

Now, as cities and dioceses in the United States begin to escalate social distancing measures, such as closing schools and canceling Masses, our solidarity with other Catholics is taking on a more concrete shape. In this time of uncertainty, many people are wondering how to respond.

“Build Each Other Up”

In times of pandemic, we have an additional moral imperative to focus our attention on the most vulnerable in our communities. A quick study of the death counts in the United States reveals that the highest concentration of deaths has occurred in Washington State. Of those, the majority have occurred at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, a nursing home outside Seattle. Clearly, the elderly are the most at risk.

The elderly, those with chronic illness, those whose health is compromised—these are the populations that are most vulnerable to coronavirus and need our attention and our ministerial concern. During this crisis, we have to make our choices not just with our own health in mind, but the health of the entire Body of Christ, particularly those who do not have the same strength, health or ability as ourselves. As Paul writes to the Romans: “It is good not to […] do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (Romans 14:21).

During this uncertain time, we should act with the goal of strengthening others and refrain from acting in a way that could potentially harm one of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, with this in mind, how can Catholic churches minister to the most vulnerable among us?

This past weekend, major cities and states across the United States followed the lead of the Italian, South Korean, and the Japanese governments to ban public gatherings. Catholic bishops throughout the United States have followed suit by canceling Masses and lifting the Sunday Mass obligation. Catholic churches around the globe have accommodated these closures by streaming Mass online to their parishes. The Archdiocese of Seattle has followed suit by suspending Mass in the diocese indefinitely. 

Seeing the Vulnerable in Our Midst

While it’s true that nothing can replace the physical gathering of the people of God to worship in the liturgy, this crisis is calling each Catholic in affected areas to a deeper solidarity with the Body of Christ. This crisis is highlighting how many Catholics already lack access to Sunday Mass and are not guaranteed the Eucharist each Sunday.

In many regions around the world, the lack of priests means that Catholics do not have regular access to the sacraments. In certain countries, government or social persecution of Catholics means that Catholics cannot attend Mass or take great risks to attend Mass.

But, even closer to home, in our own neighborhoods, many elderly men and women, the homebound, those who lack public transportation or access to priests, or those who work for companies who do not allow them to take Sundays off already cannot make it to Mass on Sundays.

Besides lobbying for stronger rights for workers—a longstanding tradition of Catholic Social Teaching—one avenue through which parishes have reached out to these parishioners are live streams of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on their websites.

When parishioners are homebound or quarantined, your online presence can be a ministry to reach out to your parishioners. Sending messages to your parish members via mass email or voicemail, uploading homilies to your site, and live-streaming Masses are all important ministries through which parishioners can connect with the church community remotely.

Meeting the Need Online

One parish in our own home diocese of Brooklyn and Queens offers a ministry to the elderly in its community. On an earlier generation of our parish website software, St. Mel’s of Flushing, Queens initiated live streaming of their daily and Sunday Masses. Since it launched six months ago, St. Mel’s live-stream Mass page has received over 2,000 unique visitors. Recently, it became the third-most visited page on the site, trailing behind only the home page and the bulletin.

Although we are currently caring for one another by keeping physically distant, the Church—parishes, pastors, and the laity—still has a mission to be Christ’s body in the world and gather together the people of God. As such, we have to reach out to our neighbor, to care for one another, to make one another feel welcome.

During the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, we invite you to take this time to consider how you could reach out through your website, social media, or other digital channels not only to fellow Catholics but to all your digital and physical neighbors who find themselves looking for the peace the world cannot give.

DeSales Media is working to bring new tools to diocesan communications departments throughout the country. One of the dioceses that has blown us away with its holistic program of digital and personal evangelization is the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

Their evangelization movement, Unleash the Gospel, works to bring out the hope and faith of the faithful in the diocese, to create a positive spirit and image around Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This positive spirit is a burst of fresh life not only to the Archdiocese but beyond. 

To tap into the positive spirit, DeSales teamed up with the Archdiocese’s Communications Team to host the first-ever Catholic Leadership Summit entitled “Marketing for the Church.” Our idea was to get some of the most innovative thinkers of the church in America together in a room to discuss what’s working and what’s not, how to troubleshoot, and how to collaborate going forward.

We’re grateful for its success. Because of the summit, tangible collaborations have kicked off, a renewed spirit of missionary discipleship is rekindled, and we’re already thinking about planning for next year.

We sat down to talk down with Edmundo Reyes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Edmundo’s energy and enthusiasm are absolutely infectious.

Edmundo has been with the Archdiocese of Detroit as the Director of Communications for almost two years now. Anyone who sits down for even a brief conversation with Edmundo can see that he is full of missionary spirit and zeal for the work of spreading God’s word in the diocese. Edmundo shares with us some insights from the Archdiocese of Detroit’s initiative to unleash a new Pentecost in their diocese and become a more dynamic, outward-facing Church.

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DeSales Media: How did Unleash the Gospel begin? What was its origin point?

Edmundo Reyes: Unleash the Gospel is a movement that had its origins in March of 2014 with the announcement of a Year of Prayer in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This Year of Prayer was announced in preparation for Synod 16. 

The archdiocese had been closing parishes, so we responded with prayer and a syond. We took a full year to pray for a new Pentecost, a renewal of faith, in the diocese. Over the course of the year leading up to Synod 16, we had Talking and Listening sessions with laypeople and clergy all over the archdiocese.

After learning from and listening to our diocesan members over the course of the year, Archbishop Vigneron published the initial pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel” in June 2017. 

DS: What prompted this year of prayer and pastoral letter?

ER: We saw the archdiocese needed to move from maintenance to mission. The natural state of a diocese ought to be one of growth—not maintenance, but growth—if we’re not growing, expanding, spreading the Gospel, we’re not doing what God asked us to do.

An important milestone in our movement was the Mass for Pardon. We asked forgiveness as a community, for pardon for the institutional sins of the Catholic Church in Detroit. It wouldn’t have been possible for us to move into this mission phase without these two events—the year of prayer and the Mass for Pardon. Our movement is not based on ingenuity and savviness, but on the work of God. We depend upon the work of God to do the work of the diocese.

DS: And then how was the full movement of Unleash the Gospel born?

ER: We call the pastoral letter a “roadmap of the missionary confirmation.” It’s not just a strategic plan, but a roadmap and a call. Unleash the Gospel is a movement that we join: there are no bystanders—everyone needs to do their part in this mission. And there’s work that needs to be done right now.  We wanted to change the narrative of the diocese, and this letter created a roadmap to health for the diocese.

We want to build a movement of people who care so deeply that they are willing to do something. The letter was not just about amplifying the work of the archbishop but a call to build a movement. The letter articulated our core principles. To build a movement, you need to start from these core principles to gain momentum. You build a movement from the center out. You start from the center, from people who are already tuned in and move from there. 

Our movement, our second Pentecost, is modeled off of the first Pentecost. If we want to ignite a new Pentecost, we have to grow it organically. We have to invest in the people already in the movement and then deploy them to reach out to the broader community.

DS: What were some key communications strategies to launch this movement?

ER: One thing we emphasize is that vocabulary matters, semantics matter. When we talk about the pastoral letter, we talk about it as a roadmap. Think of the difference between the phrases “document implemented” versus a “roadmap for a movement.” One is dynamic, directional, and motivational. The other is sterile and formal—it lacks direction.

In November 2018, we launched Detroit Catholic, the Catholic newspaper for the diocese. In January 2019, we turned Detroit Catholic into an online-only news site. And, in January 2019, we launched Unleash the Gospel Magazine.

DS: Why the switch to the magazine?

ER: Detroit Catholic is a news site, and Unleash the Gospel magazine is a lifestyle publication. We wanted to create the Unleash the Gospel magazine as a lifestyle publication for the wider Unleash the Gospel brand. 

We think of a “brand” as communication that moves across channels—the newsletter, social media, website, and magazine. We have built infrastructures to develop the brands and execute them across different channels. We distribute the 90,000 magazines in the archdiocese (which we print every two months). The core lifestyle identity that we’re promoting is that of a joyful missionary disciple.

Unleash the Gospel cover image

DS: How did you think about “branding” or “rebranding” the diocese?

ER: We created a brand framework just the way consumer products develop brands. A brand is not just a product. People get tattoos of their favorite brands, not because they just love their products, but because these brands are emblematic of a certain identity, community or lifestyle. So we wanted to present Catholicism as a lifestyle brand. Catholic identity is not a product you can buy, it’s a way of life that gives you something—an identity and a community—but asks something of you.

Everything in our digital spaces, our social media and our online magazine promote our brand identity—being a joyful missionary disciple. 

DS: What are some core principles of lifestyle branding?

ER: Lifestyle branding is made of four key components: identity, community, practical advice, and inspiration/aspiration. For example, when I was living in Minneapolis, I watched a friend run a marathon, and I told my wife afterward that I wanted to run a marathon. In order to do this, I had to start from scratch, as I was not a runner. So I subscribed to Runner’s World

Runner’s World offered identity—being a runner. The magazine never includes the word “jogging.” Semantics matter, the vocabulary you use to talk about yourself definitely matters. Second, Runner’s World creates a community of readers and subscribers joined around one common interest. Third, it offered practical advice to equip you with the practical needs that you need to become that identity. So, for Runner’s World, I learned how to get shoes, training, cool down, and what to eat. Finally, perhaps most importantly, it provides inspiration for aspirational new goals.

DS: Who is the core audience for Unleash the Gospel?

ER: Unleash the Gospel is the “big umbrella brand” for the movement. The UTG magazine is our channel for reaching the core members of the movement. We see families as core of the movement rather than parish professionals or ministers, because they are the lifeblood of the new evangelization. Our magazine is designed to reach families and the “domestic church” in the archdiocese.

For 2020, we’ve launched 52 Sundays, a dynamic guide that helps families reclaim the Lord’s Day with prayers, suggested family activities, recipes for Sunday dinner, and more.

52 Sundays cover image

DS: What would you recommend to other dioceses seeking to emulate your success?

ER: First: we always begin in prayer and humility. We do this for the glory of God. Second, we all need to up our game. The expectations of the American public for media they consume are high. We cannot afford to be mediocre. If we want to get the attention of our parishes, our diocese, of the wider public, we have to put out a product that looks slick, professional, and communicates our serious, high standards. 

The thing about the Church in the twenty-first century is that we’re competing for people’s attention, and we’re competing against people’s attention. The competition is selling lifestyles. We could be the best diocese in the country, but we’re competing with the professional lifestyle brands of top clothing brands, car companies, or tech companies. There’s so much thrown at people all the time that our message and brand need to stand out.

Because of this, we need to create products of the highest professional quality. There’s so much being thrown at people all the time. We have to create something that is consistent and professional. They’re selling them lifestyles, but we’re giving them something more.

So, our strategy is simple. We work hard to put out good work. We can only do that if we’re investing the numbers in this work, if we’re committing to it financially. We have, to my understanding, the largest team of marketing professionals of any diocese in the country. We changed our hiring policy to start hiring specialists, rather than generalists. Instead of having a small team of generalists, we have a large team of highly specialized workers. We needed expertise rather than general knowledge.

If you have a smaller team, that doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. Just do less—and do it really well. A small output from your diocese’s communications office that is really well done is better than a lot of content that is mediocre. That said, we communicate our own values to others by how we do things. There definitely needs to be an investment from leadership that matches the investment of our time and resources. I see very few dioceses investing in marketing in a significant way.

Finally, we need to not be afraid of change or failure. We need more courage in our dioceses to be bold and innovative, and trust that God will provide and guide, to operate less with fear, and more with apostolic boldness.

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We’re grateful to Edmundo for his time and for sitting down to talk with us. We highly recommend you explore Unleash the Gospel’s spectacular website and get inspired to start a movement of your own!

All images courtesy of Unleash the Gospel/Archdiocese of Detroit

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.